If hype could be measured in money, then the new BMW i8 would be an instant lottery winner millionaire. Ever since the concept car was unveiled in Frankfurt in 2009, fans have been waiting to see if the company could actually deliver on its vision of a high speed, frugal supercar to match the best the world has to offer. We’re happy to report that they succeeded. And how.
Let’s start with the on-paper specifications first shall we, because they’re astounding in their own right. The car features –
- 231 HP, 3 cylinder, 1.5 liter turbocharged petrol engine over the rear wheels
- 131 HP, electric motor over the front wheels
- 20 HP, electric starter motor/mediator to manage the power shift between the ICE and electric motors.
Results: 0-62 mph in 4.4 seconds, 155 mph top speed (limited), 134.5 mpg combined, 49 g/km emissions. Range 370 miles in Eco Pro mode.
Current price: £94,845 on the road.
It looks stunning. OK? Good we’ve got that out of the way. It’s probably the nearest thing you’ll see to a full on concept car driving legally on the road, it’s that cool. The photos don’t give the whole feel of the curves and angles and the low-slung everything else which makes people literally stop and stare as you drive by. We had car loads of tourists in the Highlands who would stop and spend minutes taking photographs when we took a roadside break.
It also helps, of course, when you’ve got things like the amazing dihedral doors (you can call them gull-wing if you like), to flick open with a flourish in front of a crowd. Our test drive video below will give you some more of an idea what we mean. If you don’t think the i8 is one of the most impressive looking cars out on the road right now, then you’re probably just visiting earth at the moment, and we hope you have a nice stay.
Look, in reality there’s no shortage of supercars on the road at the moment, the 0.1% are really going for it. And hybrid electric models like the Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid and so on, but to our minds no manufacturer has managed to put together such an incredibly sophisticated and unique package as the i8 comes with. Anyone can shove an electric motor into the body of a V10, 3.0 liter beast and get some decent results, but it takes real skill to marry up a tiny 3 cylinder, 1.5 liter engine to an electric motor and still give you the kind of drive that brings a huge smile to your face. That’s what makes the i8 special!
From the moment you start it up – silently of course, because the default is electric at all times unless you select Sport mode – you get the feeling you’re in a supremely engineered vehicle. Why? Because everything is so invisible. There’s no strangeness to the drive, it handles impeccably well, it is almost silent when you want it to be, and raucously exhilarating when you’re in that kind of mood. You point it, it goes. You press stop, it stops. It’s like the car becomes an extension of your right foot and hands. Amazing.
We drove around the Highland roads near Inverness for hours, and not once did we feel uncomfortable with the handling, performance or characteristics of the drive. On the contrary, the more we got used to the car’s personality, the more we warmed up to its dual mode options. After the initial testing out of handling at speed around the twisty roads, it was much easier just to slot the 6 speed automatic gearbox into Comfort mode – where the on-board computers select the optimum drive train and motive power to maximize comfort and economy – and let the car almost drive you.
But the moment you needed to do some safe over-taking of a slow truck, just a quick tap of the gear lever from right to left, and you’d enter Sport mode. The 1.5 motor would fire up with a delicious exhaust note to let you know you were ready, and a quick press of the throttle and blam, job done. And I mean done. No hesitation, no blip while the turbo spooled up, or you got on cam. Just press and go. Like a rocket. From any speed. Totally giggle-tastic!
Now of course, it’s clearly not a car for everyone. If you’ve got more than two pieces of small luggage, or you happen to own several large Labradors or even a family with larger than doll-like children, then this is probably not going to be your first choice of car. It’s not designed to let you go camping for a week with your golf kit available if you need it. But then again, you won’t find a VW Sharan people carrier swooping around country roads like it’s on rails. Horses for courses, right?
The true story of the BMW i8 is not what it says on paper, or even on the road, but what it means for the future of motoring in general. We’re definitely coming to a point where cars and motoring are going to have to change, if only because the price of the fuel we use continues to make gas guzzling a bad idea, no matter how rich you are. The importance of the i8 is not that it offers a supercar experience with hybrid consumption figures, and an emission level which makes a generation one Prius look filthy, but the fact that it’s not hard to see this as the start of a completely new platform.
If BMW can get this kind of performance out of a 1.5 liter 3 cylinder engine and an electric motor, then it’s clearly not going to be a long time before we see the trickle down effect, with smaller, cheaper and more practical versions of this amazing power train setup arrive at consumer level prices. And what’s the betting that over the next 5 to 10 years as battery power improves, we won’t see a gradual shift as the conventional petrol engines get smaller, while the electric motors start to take over all the proper work?
Yes the Chevy Volt is probably ahead of its time, but we’re seeing a whole slew of innovation pushing the motor industry into areas it would never have believed just a decade ago. The BMW i8 is the first of the true innovative hybrid cars, and as such we predict it will go down as a milestone vehicle when we look back at how the industry moved from fossil fuels to a more sustainable future. We can’t wait!